Council meeting ends with shouting match
Monday’s Marion city council meeting ended with an angry confrontation between resident Darvin Markley and mayor Todd Heitschmidt that was only broken up when police chief Clinton Jeffrey stepped between the two.
The argument erupted after council members approved a lease agreement, subject to rewording by the city attorney, giving Verizon Wireless permission to mount an antenna atop a water tower west of the high school.
The agreement passed on a split vote, with Heitschmidt and council members Susan Gray, John Wheeler, and Chris Costello in favor and Jerry Kline opposed.
During a final public comment session, Markley stepped to the lectern and asked Heitschmidt if Marion was a dictatorship.
Markley contended that the planning and zoning commission should have been involved in the process so the public would have a say in the decision. City zoning regulations require a conditional use permit for wireless
communication towers or antennas, Markley said.
Heitschmidt’s feathers were clearly ruffled by Markley’s outburst. He said public comments were over and abruptly adjourned the meeting.
Markley stepped over to Heitschmidt.
“I’m not going to talk to you,” Heitschmidt said, standing up to leave.
“It’s just like, any time you have an end run around the law — when you try to — with the process not even happening at all,” Markley said. “It didn’t even allow for that to happen. The public has a right to file an appeal and that’s what zoning is about.”
Heitschmidt’s voice rose in response.
“My dictatorship did not stop that,” he said. “And I don’t appreciate what you said before either. It wasn’t very kind and that’s why I don’t spend time talking with you, the way you downgrade people. I’ve never done that to you. It’s not very respectful.”
Markley said Heitschmidt had downgraded his daughter when she was a city employee.
Heitschmidt started walking toward the door. Markley, still angry, followed. Police chief Clinton Jeffrey stepped between the two and told Markley, “It’s over.”
He stood in front of Markley until Heitschmidt had left.
Verizon’s attempts to install a cell phone tower or antenna in the city drew passionate opposition from the beginning. Even the school board, consulted after Verizon changed their request from a tower in the south part of town to an antenna on the water tower, voiced opposition to the proposal in a letter written by superintendent Aaron Homburg and also signed by school board president Nick Kraus.
“The board is not against looking at an easement for access to repair the water tower but are against a new cell phone tower located that close to our property,” the letter said.
Kraus said the school board members are concerned both about property damage if an antenna fell off the water tower and landed on school property, and because they have heard many parents say they don’t want the antenna so close to the students.
“We’re elected officials that are elected to serve the public,” Kraus said. “We’ve heard a lot of concerns from parents. I haven’t heard anybody say they’re in favor of it.”
Three school board members were among the 23 spectators at the meeting. Council members did not ask them for their opinions or to clarify the board’s stance. None looked happy when they walked out.
Curtis Holland, a lawyer for Verizon Wireless, and Scott Goble, a site acquisition agent for Verizon, asked council members to approve not only an access agreement so the company can get to the water tower to see if it would work for a wireless antenna, but also a lease agreement giving the company permission to mount the proposed antenna.
Verizon’s lawyer said language in the contract proposed by the city needed to be changed because Verizon does not think the company should be required to get a conditional use permit to mount an antenna on an existing structure. Council members in their vote agreed to remove the requirement.
City council member-elect Ruth Herbel, an opponent of the cell tower proposal from the beginning, asked council members during the meeting’s early public comment session to table the request until the opponents’ lawyer could attend.
“I feel it is only fair that the residents you represent have a chance to reply through their attorney on anything concerning the tower or antenna,” Herbel said. “Regardless of what you have been told by Susan (Robson), who is not a zoning attorney, zoning regulations still apply to communication towers and antennas, as stated in our zoning regulations.”
Herbel said after the meeting there was not much she could do that evening.
“It might be that I take care of this after the first of the year,” Herbel said.
Last modified Nov. 20, 2019